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Riverview Elementary life science lab lets kids get hands-on with critters

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education Farmington, 55024

Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

Blythe, Tilly, Bud and Reggie are new to Riverview Elementary School this fall, but they're already pretty popular.

At least, the kids think they're pretty cool. Ask some of the adults around the school, and there might be a different opinion.

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Blythe is a female leopard gecko. Tilly is a blue-tongued skink. Bud's a miniature Russian tortoise. And the new guy? Reggie? Well, he's a bull python.

They all hang out together in a new life science lab at Riverview Elementary School. It's kind of a pet project, so to speak, of third grade teacher Cinda Current.

Current has brought unusual critters into her classrooms before. A few years ago, she acquired some hissing cockroaches. They've stayed in an aquarium, grown a lot and reproduced several times.

Last year, her son bought her a baby corn snake for Christmas. She brought it into her classroom, figuring to use it for a lesson and make it a classroom pet. The snake became an instant, popular curiosity. The students liked to watch her eat. They asked questions. They wanted to learn more.

That got Current thinking. There are a few science lab rooms around the school. She went to principal Kim Grengs with an idea. One thing led to another, and a classroom in the third grade pod was eventually set aside for a new life science space. Current wrote an application for a grant from the Farmington Education Foundation and received $800 for the project.

Current and phy ed teacher Rachel Olson researched critters, trying to find the ones that were most suitable for handling in a classroom setting. The local teachers got a little help from herpetologist educators Jim Gerholdt and Beth Girard, who also donated several animals and aquariums for use at RVES.

The newest members of the school are still pretty shy. They're not used to being around groups of students, let alone being touched, pet or carried. They're still adapting to their new habitat, but that's normal, Current said.

Right now, she's teaching the students the fundamentals on how to handle the animals, impressing on the kids that the animals see them as predators, and will react accordingly. But for a few minutes Monday morning, students sat in circles outside and took some time to get to know Bud and Tilly. Current explained important things about the animals, then let the animals crawl around between the students.

As that was going on, the kids took in details about the animals. They have nature notebooks in which they sketched pictures of the animals. Students gently touched the critters, then made notes on how the skin felt. That goes to their learning skills for the age, Current said. In third grade, kids are taught to observe and journal about animals. In fourth and fifth grade, they start to learn more about how to ask questions and research data to find answers. The new life science lab will help develop those observation skills, which will lead to developing the next stage of skills next year.

"Children have to learn what type of questions to ask," Current said. "Does it like TV? That's not an appropriate question. That's what we're trying to get them to develop, that sense of what is right and what isn't."

In all, there are 10 types of new critters living at Riverview Elementary. Blythe, the female leopard gecko, is joined in her pen by Amur, a male leopard gecko. They live next to Maiz, a creamcicle corn snake. Down in the corner is a tub where Bud the tortoise lives - Bud's getting a roommate very soon. Other neighbors include a baby western hog snake named Scout; a giant millipede named Archy; a dwarf frog named Snow White (she's white in color; the school is also getting seven black ones, to be named after the Seven Dwarves); two colonies of hissing cockroaches; Tilly the blue-tongued skink; and Reggie the ball python, who just moved in over the weekend.

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